The Callaghan Valley is an area that lies just south of Whistler, BC. It is also the location of the Whistler Olympic Park, where the Nordic events of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were held. With the new Whistler Olympic Park came a new road which makes the area more accessible. The park boasts and extensive cross-country and snowshoe trail network. Just before you reach the Whistler Olympic Park there is another area with an entirely different trail system. The appeal of this area is just beginning to unfold before me. I’ve heard lots of good things about Callaghan Valley snowshoeing, so this weekend we went exploring.
The clerk selling the tickets described the trails as fairly technical with rolling hills. We bought our $8 trail tickets and set off , following the well-signed trail. Our plan was to link the Alexander Falls trail to the Finger Lakes trail and then connecting to Real Line. The latter being a multi-use trail shared by snowshoers and Nordic skiers.
Mostly the trail would through fairly dense woods, occasionally emerging into wide open meadows. The snow was soft and fluffy where the trails were more exposed, but crunchy with an icy crust deeper in the woods. The trail seemed to have had only moderate use since the last snowfall a few days earlier and even though it was clearly visible, was not hard packed.
All along the trail was well marked and easy to follow. It was alarming to us that we encountered no one on these trails. In Vancouver, the trails are so busy on a Saturday morning that you have to be out as the sun comes up if you want to avoid the crowds. Here we were completely alone with the only sound the drip of melting snow and the occasional swoosh of snow falling from trees.
The day was grey with a heavy blanket of low cloud. If there were views of the surrounding peaks, they were well hidden from us on our Callaghan Snowshoeing Adventure. Instead the delight was right before our eyes.
The trees of the forest were a great lesson in nature: not only all different species of trees, but also seeing their response to winter. A number of trees wore thick coats of moss on their trunks and all their branches. Others had thick, gnarled bark. The lichen was thick and hung heavy from the branches. On other trees the moss grew in frilly layers. We idled many times to take a closer look at yet another tree, or leaf or branch. The extensive palette of greens were unbelievable. I promised myself again that I would learn more about our native species.
The highlight of the trail was a series of expansive meadows, which I suspect were lakes when the season changed. Through each of them you could clearly see where the stream flowed as the snow sunk low into a ditch. If they were lakes, they were not only frozen solid, but covered with a few feet of snow. They were these huge empty spaces with untouched snow, just waiting for someone to go prancing through. I fully plan on returning in the summer to determine whether these were indeed lakes or meadows of wildflowers.
These meadows were playgrounds for flocks of tiny birds. They swooped noisily through the sky as if they were playing tag. They’d gather in one tree for only the shortest moment, and then depart in perfect formation again with a loud chorus of birdsong. They were an absolute delight to watch and listen to.
Eventually our trail exited onto the multi-use trail. In the summer this is a Forest Service Road, and in the winter it’s a cross-country/snowshoe trail. We paused here for a drink of hot chocolate and a snack. A warm drink from a flask always feels like a special treat on the trail. Here on the ski track we finally encountered a few other people. They all moved much faster than we did on their skis. They glided so efficiently that I’m so tempted to try cross-country skiing one more time.
The 4km trail back along the service road was rolling downhill mostly and a quick return back to our starting point. Even with all the snow around us, the forest was starting to ready herself for spring. Almost every tree boasted little tips of bright green on their leaves and branches showed signs of budding.
As much as I love spring, on gorgeous days like this, I’m OK for winter to drag on just a little longer. Especially so I can come back to try the Callaghan Valley snowshoeing over in the Whistler Olympic Park just up the road.
For more pictures from this adventure, visit me on Flickr